Ken Pierson Sales/Product Manager, Meridian Manufacturing

Farms are getting larger. Along the production chain, stakeholders are looking for ways to increase convenience and reduce labor. Large-scale operations in particular are seeking out efficiencies, including those for grain handling and storage.

What has happened is threefold: older generations are looking to retire and sell their farms, younger generations are taking over farms or looking to buy more land for expansion, and, as a result of the plant genetics available today, crop yields are going through the roof.

Historically, producers bought decent-sized farms so they could look after their families. Today’s growers, especially younger generations, are considering how to acquire enough land to maximize the equipment on their farms. In today’s world, you can’t farm 1,000 acres with an older combine. You must get the most out of your land and equipment.

Those increased crop yields — it’s not uncommon to see 50 to 70 bushels of wheat per acre under ideal conditions — combined with today’s equipment, such as high output performance combines, mean producers are taking bushels off at a pace we’ve never seen before. An operation may have two semi-trailers sitting at the end of a field while a tractor with a 1000- or even 2,000-bushel grain cart takes the crop off from four different combines. 

In the past, hopper bins dominated the landscape. However, today’s producers, especially if they’re growing large acres of one type of product, don’t want to move an auger from one 4,000-bushel bin to another. Thus, over the past few years, these large-scale producers have found convenience, efficiency and have decreased labor requirements by installing large, flat bottom bins and split hopper combos. 

With semi’s rolling in with grain, producers are putting up 25,000- to 40,000-bushel (or more) flat bottom bins. These large bins are the most economical way per bushel to store grain and they save producers from constantly moving augers at harvest.

If they’re building a number of these bins, large-scale growers will also put in grain handling systems. A grain dryer may be located at the end of the bins with a grain leg filling the bins. Some producers have a grain loop, so they don’t have to feed the bins from each bin with an auger: they have a complete grain handling system set up on the farm. 

I’m seeing more big operations looking for these types of efficiencies. For example, a producer can drive a semi over the pit on one end of the bins, the grain leg takesthe grain up and drops it into the bins. Some producers also put unload conveyors underneath the bins so, again, they can unload everything from one end.

Other large-scale operations are moving in a slightly different direction. A few years ago, a grower told me if he could lay his hands on a couple of 10,000-bushel hopper combos, he’d never put up another large, flat bottom bin. Now, 10,000-bushel split hopper combos have become very popular in some regions. 

No one could have predicted the popularity of these hopper combos five years ago because it’s much more economical per bushel to build flat bottom bins. However, for owners of large-scale operations, cost isn’t the only consideration. Corporate producers are looking for convenience, efficiencies, and ways to reduce labor — and installing 10,000-bushel split hopper combos satisfies all of these needs. 

For example, all that is required to clean out these large hopper combos is to turn the handle and open the gate to empty the bin. When no more grain comes out, a rubber mallet is used to tap the sides of the hopper cone and the bin is emptied. The cost per bushel may be higher, but it’s more convenient and involves much less labor than maintaining and cleaning flat bottom bins. Split hopper combo bins have certainly caught on in some areas and are what producers are exploring now.

The importance of having on-site storage is increasing, particularly for capturing the best prices on crops. Some crop contracts include strong incentives for storing on site. As operations grow in size, producers are looking at their storage options and cost may not be the only incentive: convenience and ease may be the deciding factors.